Step by step, Pontiac's world-famous '68 Firebird Grand Marque VIII factory show car continues on the long road to restoration. Last month, we spied in as Classic Pontiac Rescue (CPR) in Honea Path, South Carolina, set its sights on the Firebird 400's subframe, broke open its toolboxes, and began deconstruction of the 46-year-old assembly.
Last month, we documented how CPR found damage to the driver-side rear lower A-arm attaching point that left restoration-shop owner Joe Jackson unable to remove the mounting bolt. To win the battle, this month he calls upon an old blacksmithing technique called annealing, in which he uses a high heat source to heat the metal and make it soft and malleable.
Let's watch the blow-by-blow action as he dukes it out with the stubborn subframe, wins the match, and extracts the assembly from the body.
1. Now is time to light up the torch, throw some sparks, and get that stubborn bolt out of there. After taking proper safety precautions, Classic Pontiac Rescue owner Joe Jackson uses a brazing tip—it produces a small flame and is easier to control in a tight area. "I adjusted the flame with an oxygen mix to a nice hot, small blue flame. Then I introduced the flame to the damaged metal and evenly distributed it using circular motions," he says.
2. Joe says the trick is to get the metal to a nice orange glow. If it gets too hot, it will turn bright yellow—and that means the metal is seconds away from melting like cheese. Once all of the damaged metal is a uniform shade of orange, he grabs a large pair of pliers and bends the metal back to its original shape. "You need to work fast, as the metal will cool quickly and become hard. If that happens, you have to reintroduce the torch back to the damaged metal and repeat the steps," Joe says.
3. After spraying the heated steel with water to cool it down, Joe uses a pair of large, long-handled pliers to extract the bolt while keeping his hands away from the heated metal.
4. Success—out comes the stubborn A-arm.
5. Regardless, there's still damage to the frame. Compare the damaged side (shown on the left) to the undamaged side. You can see the difference. Can we fix it? Or do we need to replace the frame? We'll ponder that for now and tell you our decision in a future issue.
6. Next up, Joe extracts the power-steering box. He removes the two nuts attaching the steering coupler to the column. Then he removes the castle nut that attaches the pitman arm to the box and uses a ball-joint separator to drop the arm away from the box. (The power-steering lines were removed previously.)
7. He removes the three bolts that attach the box to the frame. "Make sure you have a good grip on the box or a hydraulic jack under it. Once the bolts are out, it will be awkward to handle quickly," Joe says.
8. With the front spindles and the steering box removed, the only component holding the steering linkage to the Firebird is the idler arm. Two bolts hold it to the frame. To remove them, Joe uses a ratchet with an extension and socket to access the bolt buried in the frame, and a box wrench on the nut. With these two bolts removed, the idler arm will drop away with the rest of the steering linkage.
9. Moving under the Firebird, Joe removes the fuel and brake lines from the frame. Some of the line brackets are bolted to the frame and encircle the line, while others are simply clips—the lines just pop out. These are on both the driver and passenger sides of the frame facing the inner rocker panels.
10. He extracts the emergency-brake cable by removing the two nuts on the end of the cable, removing the guide, and removing the mouse clip that affixes the cable to the bracket on the frame. He then slides the cable out of the frame.
11. Joe prepares to drop the frame. "I always put a hydraulic jack under the engine crossmember to support the dangling frame from the front so it doesn't abruptly drop when you remove the bolts," Joe says. "This helps control the frame as you lower it from the vehicle."
12. Jackstands help stabilize the frame while the body bolts are being removed from the frame. "We aren't using them to support the weight of the car—just to keep the frame safely supported," Joe says. The gray jackstands are placed under the reinforcing plates for the floorpans to support the shell's weight while the frame is removed.
13. All of the previous work comes down to removing just four bolts to drop the frame away from the shell. Joe says: "I can't stress this enough. Do not use an impact wrench to remove the body bolts. This applies to all GM-built cars. If there is any corrosion—and there will be—the sudden jolt of the impact wrench almost always will tear the welds on the cage nut and you are left with a spinning bolt that cannot be removed unless you cut access holes in your floorpans. Always use a breaker bar. Even pressure and leverage will break the bolt loose and should not cause any collateral damage to the cage nut.
14. With the four body bolts out, we successfully have the Firebird's subframe separated from its body 46 years after they were first mated together.